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Stewart v. Freitas

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 29, 2017

STEVE FREITAS, et al., Defendants.


          MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff, an inmate at the Sonoma County Jail (“SCJ”), filed this pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in a separate order. Based upon a review of the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, it is dismissed with leave to amend.


         A. Standard of Review

         Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review the court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se complaints must be liberally construed. See Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations [in order to state a claim], . . . a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. . . . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must proffer “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570.

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         B. Legal Claims

         According the complaint, on January 8, 2017, while housed at SCJ, plaintiff refused an order to move from a lower bunk to an upper bunk. The order was given by defendant deputy A. Marlowe. Plaintiff alleges that he refused to move bunks because he had a disability, which was documented. Marlowe proceeded to solicit a mental health worker to analyze plaintiff, which led to plaintiff's transfer to the mental health unit. Plaintiff identifies the mental health worker as defendant John Doe.

         Plaintiff filed inmate grievances challenging the housing reclassification. In the decisions rejecting his grievances, he was informed that Marlowe was unaware of plaintiff's lower bunk accommodations and was acting under instructions from defendant Sergeant Gallaway, who had suggested the mental health intervention based on plaintiff's behavior after being directed to move to an upper bunk.

         1. Due Process

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects individuals against governmental deprivations of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Interests that are procedurally protected by the Due Process Clause may arise from two sources: the Due Process Clause itself and laws of the states. See Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223-27 (1976). In the prison context, these interests are generally ones pertaining to liberty. Changes in conditions so severe as to affect the sentence imposed in an unexpected manner implicate the Due Process Clause itself, whether or not they are authorized by state law. See Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995) (citing Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 493 (1980) (transfer to mental hospital), and Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 221-22 (1990) (involuntary administration of psychotropic drugs)). Deprivations that are less severe or more closely related to the expected terms of confinement may also amount to deprivations of a procedurally protected liberty interest, provided that the liberty in question is one of “real substance.” See Sandin, 515 U.S. at 477-87. An interest of “real substance” will generally be limited to freedom from restraint that imposes an “atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life” or “will inevitably affect the duration of [a] sentence.” Id. at 484, 487.

         Here, plaintiff alleges that he spent six weeks in the mental health unit causing him to miss classes, which classes would have allowed him to earn milestone credits towards his sentence. Accepting that as true, as the court must at the pleading stage, the complaint alleges sufficient facts to show an atypical and significant hardship was imposed on plaintiff. However, the complaint does not sufficiently link any defendant to this claim. Specifically, although plaintiff alleges that defendants Marlowe and Gallaway ordered a mental health analysis, he does not establish that these defendants, or any other defendant(s), were responsible for the decision to transfer plaintiff to the mental health unit without due process. Leave to amend will be granted so that plaintiff may allege facts, if they exist, showing who made the housing decision. In his amended complaint, plaintiff also must identify the procedural protections - such as notice or a hearing - not provided to him before he was transferred.

         2. John ...

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